School counselor helps students prep for post-secondary success

With plenty of opportunities for young people to attend college, earn certificates, or enter the workforce after receiving a high school diploma, students are considering what their pathway will look like after they graduate. 

Not all students will end up at a traditional four-year college, some will choose to pursue a certification or go straight into the workforce. With a variety of factors and potential paths to follow, deciding what to do after high school is no easy task for students in the Indiana Uplands. This is when school counselors such as Kristina Baker at North Lawrence Career Center (NLCC) step in to help.

In her role, Baker provides resources, organizes events, and mentors a variety of students in Lawrence County, including supporting young people in ROI’s UpSkill Work and Learn Youth Apprenticeships.

North Lawrence Career Center Counselor Kristina Baker

“I feel so blessed to work at the North Lawrence Career Center. I work with an amazing administration team and instructors who are dedicated to their students. People do not go into education for the money or a few extra weeks off in the summer. We do this because we are passionate about helping students,” she said. 

“Some may find this crazy, but I love working with teenagers. They amaze me every day. My students are passionate about their future careers. Nothing is more satisfying than listening to students talk about their future and watching them grow throughout their high school years.” 

ROI was excited to ask Baker questions about her roles as an educator and school counselor in the Indiana Uplands assisting the next generation of hard-working Uplanders to find a path to success in the region.

Q: How long have you worked in education and at NLCS?

A: I have worked in education since August 1997. I started working at Bedford North Lawrence High School in the science department. After five years, I moved to Oolitic Middle School, where I taught eighth-grade science for 16 years. Then, I moved to the North Lawrence Career Center. This is my sixth year at the Career Center.

Q: What inspired you to work in education, particularly as a school counselor?

A: I taught science for 21 years, 16 of which were in middle school. In middle school, we taught on teams. Our team would meet every day for 45 minutes. We planned integrated curriculum lesson plans and discussed overall student issues. The eighth-grade class I was teaching that year was very challenging. In response, my team decided to try something a little different. In January of that year, we each “adopted” five students we felt were at risk. We built stronger relationships with these particular students by having one-on-one time with them, discussing their interests, and helping them stay on track with their class work. We met with these students on a weekly basis, and the accomplishments these kids have made are truly amazing. Mentoring these students became very rewarding and made me realize that I had talents in other areas of education I wanted to pursue. That year, I started my journey to earn my master’s degree in counseling.

Q: You were a member of ROI’s Cohort 1 Career Coaching Fellows. What made you decide to pursue this opportunity and how did it shape how you worked with your students?

A: As high school Career and Technical Education (CTE) counselors, we are always checking the boxes. Did a student complete the necessary courses to meet graduation requirements? However, there is so much more. I like to get to know students, their passions, and what path they want to pursue after high school. I encourage students to take as many classes as possible, and if you don’t like the class, that is a win. It is just as important to know what you don’t want to do as what you do. The Career Coaching fellowship was an opportunity to learn more about career options in our community so that I could help my students. As educators, it is also important to be connected to fellow educators; you never stop learning.

Q: How has preparing students for life after high school changed over your career?

A: I have only been a school counselor for six years and finished my degree in 2019. A lot has happened in this short amount of time, not only changes with graduation requirements and CTE but also the world. COVID-19 changed many things in the world of education and career opportunities. There isn’t a perfect solution for preparing students for life after high school. Just like in the classroom, you have students at all different levels and with many different needs. I feel the same as a school counselor. It is different for everyone, and you have to offer to meet students where they are. We started the nontraditional career fair about five years ago. It allows freshman and sophomore students to be exposed to nontypical careers. We let students experience the classroom without judgment in a safe and exploring environment. We always bring in guest speakers to share their experiences.

Q: How would you describe your students?

A: We offer 15 different programs, ranging from welding to health science to computer science. Therefore, we have a wide range of students. However, the majority of my students are hands-on learners. They learn by doing. Our instructors allow them to explore by participating in projects that range from earning dual credit to working on community projects. We can always improve. Students change, business needs change, graduation requirements change, and the world changes. We have to keep up with these changes by utilizing our community partners. The Career Center relies heavily on community support. We want to prepare students for the workforce in the Indiana Uplands region. Our community partners include the Lawrence County Economic Growth Council and many local businesses. We also have amazing instructors with strong connections to our community. Many of our instructors are graduates of the Career Center. I believe that speaks volumes when your instructors come back to teach the next generation. I feel blessed to work with a great administration team and dedicated instructors.

Q: In your experience, where are students going after high school? What helps them make those decisions?

A: Students are rethinking post-secondary education. It looks different for everyone. Students think about college loan debt more than in previous years. I see some students earning certifications and going straight to the workforce while others use those certifications to make money in college. Several of my CNA students are working for the IU Health emergency department. These are real-life lessons that a student would not get in a traditional classroom. My UpSkill students are not only getting real-world experience but also getting support from our community in other ways. A few of our students are getting their post-secondary education paid for by their employers and continuing their work experience in college. Our ROI partners, Jen Staab and Kim Waldridge, are fantastic. They provide valuable feedback for our Upskill work-based learning (WBL) students on interview skills and resume building. They also check in with our students and business partners regularly to ensure the employers’ and students’ needs are met. All of our WBL students, whether they are traditional WBL, career exploration, or Upskill students, work all year with our WBL instructors, Phil Richason and Megan Baldwin. They bring in guest speakers and discuss real work-related topics such as diversity in the workplace, communication skills, financial literacy, and conflict resolution in the workplace. These are important life skills from which we can all benefit.